Are you buying veggies, grains, meat, or dairy in bulk for a family, neighborhood, food coop, hub, or food bank? If so, please buy local and help build a robust local Colorado food system for the long term!

If you’re new to this–here’s why local bulk buying is so important and how to create a connection with a local producer.

Why it matters now more than ever

When you buy in bulk, you are saving producers – farmers, ranchers, orchardists, market farmers – considerable time and expense. This way they do not have to take their precious time putting food into pretty little plastic packages to tempt consumers. (Of course there’s a place for retail, but that’s a different article.)

You are also saving fossil fuels by eliminating the packaging, infrastructure, and extra labor needed to package the food.  Ultimately, when you buy in bulk, you are eliminating food waste from processing, plastic waste, and waste of the farmer’s time. And it’s easier to social distance.

As Stone Barns farm director Jack Algiere said, I used to have one person buying 1,000 pounds of squash…now I have 1,000 people each buying 1 pound of squash, a totally different model. To wash, pack, deal with sanitation, the need to process, that’s where the costs are.” This model is not sustainable. ⅓ of small farmers in Stone Barns ResourcED’s national small farm survey said they may go bankrupt by the end of the year. Algiere comments, “any way you look at it…it’s dire.”

Buying in bulk is a tangible way to support our local regenerative agriculture farmers and to help mitigate climate change. Buying in bulk is a way to help strengthen the local food system for the long run. In this field, every person’s actions do count!

Connecting with Local Producers

If you are buying to donate to a food bank, raise the money first and ask/offer the producer a fair market wholesale price. Many producers in Colorado have suffered losses  and we need to work together to get our local food systems on a secure footing in CO now and for the long-term. Producer-consumer relationships are the foundation for this. Now is the time to build them. There is opportunity now like never before. It’s worth the time.

How to find a farmer: start here. Then search online for “regenerative market garden, farm, ranch, and/or orchard” in your area. Some counties have local lists online and there are a few statewide lists as well.

Buying from a big-box store is purely transactional; buying from a Colorado farmer is relational. You and the group you represent on one hand and the farmer and farm workers or farm family get to know each other. The give and take of flexibility builds trust, goodwill, and partnership.

For instance, at the end of the day if a farmer or rancher you work with has extra produce that needs to move before it goes bad, maybe they will think of your group and offer it to you at a special price. Waste is painful for everyone. You can also ask your farmer whether they would sell you B-grade produce at lower cost. B-grade is just as healthy as A grade, but looks funny–for example, intertwined carrots.

Or maybe hail destroyed a crop you already paid for–if you can be flexible and agree to take a different crop instead, now or later, this builds a good working relationship. And farmers are often open to growing what your group wants, needs, and likes, even specialty crops. Ask them far enough ahead of the growing season for the particular crop.

For ranchers, it’s most cost-effective if you buy the whole animal. Reach out to ranchers in advance and let them know how you want it processed. Some people want all ground beef. Some want the organs and bones; others don’t. And so on. It’s really okay to ask the producers: how are you raising your animals? Crops? What are the conditions for workers?

80% of the farm operations in CO are small-acreage and proud of the care they take of land and people–they want you to know how your food is raised. And also–listen for what you like. Support farmers and ranchers who resonate with your values for regenerative ag. Just work with one or a few to keep things simple.

Some more basic questions to ask producers when first connecting:

What’s your delivery day? Where do you deliver? How often? Or do buyers come out to the farm/ranch?

What size is your delivery lot?  (You need to decide beforehand if you want to buy all at once or opt for delivery in smaller quantities, if this is possible given your choice of produce.)

When is the peak season for each crop?

What and how much requires refrigeration right away?

How long does it store before you need to process it? (see below)

What kind of containers do they deliver in–or do you bring your own?

May these questions, answers– this bulk-buying journey– bring joy; it can regenerate our relationship with food, land, and each other.

Special thanks to the presenters on the Colorado Farm and Food Systems Response Team webinar,  Procuring Local Food for Hunger Relief  (5/22/20) for the material in the section Connecting With Local Producers above.

As a member of the CO Local Food & Regenerative Ag Hub and the 350CO Regenerative Agriculture and Local Food Systems Committee, Pam Sherman just joined the Colorado Food Systems Forum and can be reached at 

Did you enjoy this blog post? Donate to 350 Colorado to fund the efforts of our Regenerative Agriculture Committee which is working in Colorado to make local food systems a climate solution.